The Book of Trouble: A Romance by Ann Marlowe Harcourt, $179 Many of us have a love affair in our past that, had we looked at it from the outside as a disinterested observer, we would have quickly concluded was doomed to end catastrophically. Ann Marlowe's romance with a man she identifies as Amir, chronicled in The Book of Trouble: A Romance, is one such affair. Marlowe, who is Jewish, in her late 40s, an ex-heroin user who loves sex with strangers, is drawn to Amir, a man 10 years younger, Muslim and an Afghan expatriate. Had The Book of Trouble merely confined itself to her physical affair it would have been suitable only for the Sex and the City demographic, but Marlowe's ambitions range further than detailing a romance gone wrong. Marlowe meets Amir in 2002, just one month before she is scheduled to go to Afghanistan on a teaching assignment. Over the following weeks, their friendship turns into a torrid and loving affair. All is not bliss, however, as Amir treats her warmly when they are alone but is distant in public - not to mention occasionally announcing his desire to sleep with her friends. Marlowe's desire for Amir is such that even when he announces he's seeking a virgin for an arranged marriage and plans to return to Afghanistan in the near future, she refuses to see that the affair can't end well. From there her story moves to Afghanistan where she observes how Afghanis interact with each other. Although its people are poor and live in a war-torn nation, Marlowe notes that they treat each other with a kindness alien to her native New York. Whereas many westerners focus on the superficial in their relationships, Marlowe sees a simple and honest love between Afghani men and women. Although she tires of her near rural existence, complete with cold showers and unheated rooms, it's plain that she loves Afghanistan, its people and culture. Back in New York, she reconnects with Amir and discovers him to be more distant than before. He announces an imminent return to Afghanistan and goes out of his way to avoid talking to her. Seeking escape, she travels once again, this time to Iraq, where she finds a society struggling to recover after the recent war, one she supported on moral grounds. There she meets Ahmed Chalabi, who as a largely unknown Iraqi expatriate once attended one of her New York parties, and learns how difficult life is, even in a city such as Baghdad. On her return to the US, she engages in a post-mortem examination of her failed romance with Amir. Throughout the book, Marlowe shares her observations and thoughts on a variety of topics including religion, culture, gender roles and male-female romances. Here's where this book shines because her insights are uncommonly penetrating. Proving it's the sinner that knows God the best, the sexually adventurous Marlowe blasts our cynical culture that shies away from declarations of love in favour of business-like 'relationships'. In a chapter titled 'People don't fall in love any more', Marlowe writes: 'Our culture makes it easier to devalue love by the language it uses. 'Lover, romance, making love' - even these words have to sound racy or treacly or archaic.' Her romance might be of little interest to the reader, but The Book of Trouble is a memoir and, as with all great memoirs, Marlowe takes the opportunity to explore larger issues.